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Emergency Contraception

A pill that can stop a pregnancy before it starts; it's meant as a backup plan, not regular birth control.

WHAT IT IS

Emergency contraception or EC is a method of birth control that stops pregnancy from happening. It’s not meant to be used as your primary method of birth control—hence the name emergency contraception—but we all know that accidents happen, so it's best to know about this method before you need it. Right now, there are three types of EC:*

  • ParaGard IUD: Believe it or not, this type of IUD can function as EC if you have a doc insert it within five days of unprotected sex.
  • ella: This is a one-pill formula that works up to five days after unprotected sex. Available by prescription only. There is no age limit to access ella.
  • Plan B One-Step and generic, levonorgestrel-based EC: These types of EC can work up to five days after unprotected sex but effectiveness decreases each day. All of these options are available over-the-counter (meaning that you can go into your local pharmacy and ask for it) and some are available through online retailers like Amazon.com. 

*a fourth method, the Yuzpe method, is a little more complicated to use, so we recommend sticking with one of the three methods detailed here.


HOW IT WORKS

It depends on the method that you’re using, but all the options significantly reduce the chance of pregnancy if taken within five days of unprotected sex.


EFFECTIVENESS

Depends on your method of choice; ParaGard is super effective and the pill methods are a bit less effective. Note: When we talk about effectiveness we mean typical use numbers or what happens when couples used this method of birth control prettywell; it accounts for human errors and occasional contraceptive failure. BUT, teenagers are often not as careful as older people in using these methods, so real typical use rates for teens may be a little worse than what you see here. Keep that in mind as you're looking at the options and remember that for birth control to be effective, you have to use it consistently and correctly every single time.


MAJOR PERKS

  • All methods reduce your risk of unplanned pregnancy.
  • ParaGard IUD: Super effective; bonus: you get a super effective, long lasting method of birth control (ParaGard is effective up to 12 years).
  • ella: Effective; no age limit to obtain ella.
  • Plan B One-Step and generic, levonorgestrel-based EC: Effective; no age limit to obtain Plan B One-Step or generic equivilants; available at many pharmacies and online retailers; no medical provider visit required.

MINOR DRAWBACKS

  • ParaGard IUD: Pain (some women report that insertion is painful/uncomfortable); many doc’s won’t insert an IUD in younger women (so you may have to fight to get one); irregular bleeding (getting an IUD can change make your period heavier, lighter, or cause spotting); no STD protection.
  • ella: Nausea and sore breasts; irregular bleeding (taking ella can make your period heavier, lighter, or cause spotting); no STD protection.
  • Plan B One-Step and generic, levonorgestrel-based EC: Headache, nausea, and sore breasts; irregular bleeding (take these types of EC can make your period heavier, lighter, or cause spotting); no STD protection.

Note: Not every woman experiences these drawbacks—they are just some of the ones that are commonly reported. Talk to your doc to learn more and keep in mind that if this method doesn’t work for you, there are LOTS more out there…but it’s best to wait at least six months to see if things get better before you decide to switch. If they don’t, or if you just can’t deal with them, talk with your medical provider about finding something that works for you.


NEED TO SEE A MEDICAL PROVIDER?

  • ParaGard IUD: Yep; you’ll need to make an appointment to have the IUD inserted by a health care professional. 
  • ella: Yep; you’ll need to see a medical provider to get a prescription for ella.
  • Plan B One-Step and generic, levonorgestrel-based EC: Nope, and no age restrictions either (you should be able to find it on the shelf near the condoms and other "family planning" stuff and through some online retailers like Amazon.com!  If not, ask the pharmacist on duty if it's available).

Need to find a health center? We can help!

Back to Birth Control Explorer

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